Sunday October 4, 2015
Israel Hayom
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Prey or predator? Police probe letter accusing Sa'ar of sexual harassment
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Prof. Aviad Hacohen

The perils of an anonymous letter

In this "like, whatever" country, even an anonymous letter, bearing nothing more than initials, could potentially force its subject to visit the nearest police station to prove his innocence. The woman who was said to have written the letter denies all the allegations, no complaint has been filed and no victims have surfaced. But, as we witnessed on Monday, it is enough to jot down a few lines, riddled with spelling mistakes, to spark a witch hunt.

The police are "looking into" the matter — another concept from the Israeli whitewash industry, having nothing to do with the law. "Looking into" a case entails hearing testimonies and gathering evidence, but without the menacing shadow of an "investigation" overhead. An investigation would automatically make the subject of the investigation into a "suspect" and probably sully his good name forever.

The law doesn't require an official complaint for legal proceedings to begin. It is enough for the police to be in possession of "information" on a possible crime, regardless of how they came across this information — be it by bird or by an invisible hand — to raise enough suspicion to launch a criminal investigation.

But the general policy is that in order to launch an investigation, there should be enough evidence to support the existence of a crime. That is how the term "looking into" came about — it is a sort of hybrid of investigating and closing the case before it was ever opened.

Every investigation requires a degree of care, but in this case, everyone involved needs to be extra careful. One reason for this is the subject of the case — a senior cabinet minister, possibly slated for an even more senior post in the next government. It is safe to assume that his enemies, and other envious individuals, will be making every effort to trip him up, especially now when the government is being assembled. Efforts to torpedo senior appointments are generally rife with the most despicable methods and means.

On the other hand — and this is firmly anchored in the law to prevent sexual harassment — the police are required to show special sensitivity in cases involving superiors and their subordinates, which usually take place very much in secret and usually involve efforts to paralyze and silence the victim. Reality teaches us that in crimes of this nature, in most cases where there is smoke there is fire, but the victims still usually refrain from filing any kind of complaint.

The shame and the fear of not being believed, as well as the prospect of an exhausting future cross examination on the witness stand by the attacker's high-priced lawyers, deter many of the victims from speaking up.

There is room to demand that the police quickly conclude "looking into" the issue and reveal to all whether this was merely a storm in a teacup or a serious matter. It is important to the public, and just as important to the education minister, that this matter be thoroughly investigated. The menacing shadow of this unresolved accusation cannot be allowed to linger.

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